Fifteeenth-century Franco-Flemish composer Guillaume Du Fay likely did not write music under the expectation that his compositions would be performed in a 21st-century college recital hall. For all Du Fay knew, his legacy could have been left only in objects — like his waffle maker.
On Sunday, Jan. 27, the Elm City Consort — a local nonprofit dedicated to early music performance — hosted a concert titled “Du Fay’s Waffle Iron and Other Things He Left Behind” in Sudler Recital Hall. The all-Du Fay program consisted of secular songs, motets and a portion of a mass setting. According to Michael Rigsby MED ’88, a founding member and current director of the Elm City Consort, the music of Du Fay presents performers with specific challenges while also allowing them freedom.
“The music of Du Fay is in many ways both familiar and obscure,” Rigsby said. “For those of us who love early music, it’s very likely you’ll find recordings of Du Fay on our CD shelf or playlist. Yet there is still so much to discover. Our approach to the choices this music affords performers evolves during the rehearsal process — always informed by scholarship, but also what feels right.”
Challenges while playing Du Fay’s music arise from the nature of interacting with older texts and music notation, Rigsby said. Although aspects of 15th-century music notation were clearly codified, modern performers often must speculate about the performance conventions during the composer’s time.
This ambiguity extends to the instrumentation of the music. Scholars know some information about 15th-century instruments, largely from manuscripts and paintings, but modern performers cannot be certain about what was practiced at the time.
The repertoire of the concert was accompanied by commentary on Du Fay’s life and legacy by Will Watson GRD ’20, a current graduate student researching both the circulation of secular song around 15th-century Europe and the use of new digital tools to reexamine long-standing stereotypes about early classical music.
Rigsby approached Watson hoping to organize a concert a few months ago, and since, the pair discussed the concert’s repertoire and program order.
“There are any number of meaningful ways to engage with this — or any — music,” Watson said. “While I tried to guide the audience toward a few particular modes of listening this afternoon, I could easily imagine another concert of Du Fay, or even of the same specific pieces, that encouraged an audience to listen in completely different ways.”
According to Rigsby, this concert was the second year in which the Elm City Consort has collaborated with a Yale graduate student in order to put on a concert with commentary.
The Consort often collaborates with musicians from Yale as well as local professionals. For the past 10 years, the consort has focused on the performance of early music. As part of the group’s mission is education, the Consort collaborates with local students and scholars.
“Fortunately, others had the wisdom to collect and disseminate much of [Du Fay’s] work in ways that come down to us today,” Rigsby said. “While who knows what ever became of the waffle iron?”
One of Guillaume Du Fay’s well-known motets, titled “Nuper rosarum flores,” was commissioned for the consecration of the Florence Cathedral — the same cathedral that harbors Fillippo Brunelleschi’s famous dome.
Rianna Turner | firstname.lastname@example.org